Upanishadamritam – Isavasya Upanishat (Part 1)

by “Dharmatma” Dr. S. Yegnasubramanian

From this edition onwards, we present a series of articles on the ten principal Upanishads on which Jagadguru Adi Shankaracharya had written commentaries. These articles are based on the Upanishad lectures by “Dharmatma” Dr. S. Yegnasubramanian. We hope that readers find these articles enlightening and educative.

We start the series with Isavasya Upanishad from the Shukla Yajur Veda. The Upanishad starts with the phrase Isavaasyam Idam Sarvam. Hence it obtains the name Isavaasya Upanishad.

The upanishad begins with the following Shanti Mantra:

ॐ पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदं पूर्णात् पूर्णमुदच्यते ।
पूर्णस्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते ॥

oṃ pūrṇamadaḥ pūrṇamidaṃ pūrṇāt pūrṇamudacyate ।
pūrṇasya pūrṇamādāya pūrṇamevāvaśiṣyate ॥

ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥
oṃ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ ॥

In the above mantra, adaḥ refers to Ishwara or paroksha tattvam and idaṃ refers to Jeeva or aparoksha tattvam. The implied meaning of the first line is “Ishwara is whole, Jeeva is whole and from Ishwara is born Jeeva”. Ishwara without Maya is whole or pure Chaitanyam (Consciousness). Jeeva without the body and mind complex is whole or pure Chaitanyam. Hence both Ishwara and Jeeva or whole.

In the next line, the implied meaning is “when you separate the Chaitanyam from the body and mind complex, nothing is left”. The body and mind complex cannot exist without Chaitanyam. The body and mind complex cannot exist independently by itself. It is dependent on Chaitanyam.

The concluding line “oṃ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ” , which occurs at the end of any vedic verse, is a prayer to free us from three types of obstacles – ādhyātmika (obstacles created by oneself), ādibhautika (obstacles created by external agents) and ādhidaivika (obstacles created by nature such as rain etc.).

īśāvāsya upaniśad is divided into 18 verses. The first two verses gives the essence of the entire Upanishad and the subsequent verses are essentially a commentary on the first two verses – verse 3 through 8 on the first verse and verses 9 through 18 on the second verse.

The Upanishad covers three topics: ātma jñānam, which is the primary goal of the seeker, nivṛtti mārga or the path of Sanyasa and pravṛtti mārga or the path of Karma Yoga. The latter two are the two paths to gain ātma jñānam. The first two topics are covered in Verse 1 and the third topic is covered in Verse 2.

Verse # 1

ॐ ईशावास्यमिदग्ं सर्वं यत्किञ्च जगत्यां जगत् ।
तेन त्यक्तेन भुञ्जीथा मा गृधः कस्यस्विद्धनम् ॥१॥

oṃ īśāvāsyamidagṃ sarvaṃ yatkiñca jagatyāṃ jagat ।
tena tyaktena bhuñjīthā mā gṛdhaḥ kasyasviddhanam ॥1॥

idagṃ sarvaṃ = all this (this entire universe); īśāvāsyam = īśasya āvāsyam = īśasya āvāsayogyam = pervaded by Isa, the Lord ; yat kiñca = also whatsoever, and whatever there may be; jagatyāṃ = prakrtyām = in the primordial nature; jagat = the world; tena = by Him (the Lord ); tyaktena = dattena vittena = wealth granted, allotted, given; bhuñjīthā = bhogam kuryah = do experience, enjoy; mā gṛdhaḥ = ma kāṃkṣetah = do not crave for, do not seek; kasyasvid = any one else’s; dhanam = wealth.

This entire universe is pervaded by the Lord, for the reason that it is dependent upon primordial nature, which in its turn is also pervaded by Him. He alone is thus independent. For this reason, enjoy whatever is given to you by Him, and do not seek wealth from any other source.

There is no world other than Ishwara. Ishwara alone appears as world. Ishwara is the cause of the universe and universe is the effect of the cause. There is no effect separate from cause just as there is no ornament separate from gold. Anything in this world should be replaced by the vision of Ishwara i.e the vision of effect is replaced by the vision of cause. This is called renunciation through knowledge. What is the benefit received from such renunciation? It frees oneself samsāra from i.e. bondage. As long as this world is taken as different from oneself, it creates fear. Therefore, by seeing Ishwara in everything in this world, one can attain mukti or liberation. This is the end goal.

What are the means to achieve the end goal?. It is achieved by a long pursuit. There are two paths: one can dedicate oneself to the long pursuit of śravaṇa, manana and nidhidhyāsana by following the Sanyasa Ashrama or nivṟ̍itti mārga. The other path  is Grihastha Ashrama or pravṟ̍itti mārga, which is described in the next verse.

Verse # 2

कुर्वन्नेवेह कर्माणि जिजिविशेच्छतग्ं समाः ।
एवं त्वयि नन्यथेतोऽस्ति न कर्म लिप्यते नरे ॥२॥

kurvanneveha karmāṇi jijiviśecchatagṃ samāḥ ।
evaṃ tvayi nanyatheto’sti na karma lipyate nare ॥2॥

kurvan = doing; eva = only, even; iha = here, in this world, while a human being; karmāṇi = (prescribed) actions, duties, works; jijiviśet = jijiviśum icchet = shall you desire to live; shatagṃ samāḥ = shatam varshāṇi = a hundred years, a full life; evam = thus, in this way; tvayi = for you, in you; na = not; anyathā = otherwise, different; itah = from this; asti = is; karma = pāpam = sin; lipyate = stains, taints; nare = in the man.

One must desire to live even a hundred years by doing prescribed karma only. Thus is it right for you, not otherwise; [if this is done, then] sin will not bind the human.

In this verse, the pravṟ̍itti mārga or Karma Yoga is enunciated. This is prescribed for one in Grihastha Ashrama. The type of karma is very important. Sakāma karma is done to gain material benefits whereas Nishkāma Karma, which is undertaken without expecting anything in return, leads to inner growth and mental purity. Nishkāma karma could also produce material benefits as a by-product. The karma that is indicated in this verse is Nishkāma karma. Performance of Pancha Mahā yajña  (deva, pitṛ
ṛśi, manushya and bhūta yajñas ) as pointed in chapter 3 of Bhagavad Gita is an example of Nishkāma Karma. It should be noted that one can also be doing Sakama Karma for material things that are needed to lead a life. More emphasis is placed on Sakāma Karma in the beginning stages of one’s life. Gradually, this is replaced by Nishkāma karma for spiritual growth. One devoted to Nishkāma Karma is not affected by the ups and downs of fruits of karma accrued on account of performing karmas not only in this life but from past lives as well. It gives rise to mental balance as the seeker is performing karma without expecting any fruits and accepts the fruits of action as īśvara prasādam.

Verse # 3

असुर्या नाम ते लोका अन्धेन तमसऽऽवृताः ।
ताग्ंस्ते प्रेत्याभिगच्चन्ति ये के चात्महनो जनाः ॥ ३॥

asuryā nāma te lokā andhena tamasa”vṛtāḥ ।
tāgṃ ste pretyābhigaccanti ye ke cātmahano janāḥ ॥ 3॥

asuryā = of great misery, or belonging to asura-s (demons); nama = niscitametat = thus is certain; te = they, those; loka = worlds; andhena tamasa’ = nibidāndhakareṇa = of relentless, blinding darkness; āvrtāh = covered with, enveloped by; tān = (to) them; pretya = upon death; abhigacchanti = fall into, are trapped into; ye ke = those who; ātmahanah = yathāvad ātmajñānamajñatvā vaiparityena jānantah = having failed to know the (Parama-) Atma correctly, persist in false knowledge only; janāh = persons.

The worlds of eternal misery, covered with unremitting darkness, indeed, do they fall into without recourse, they who, having failed to realize the truth about the Lord (in spite of opportunity), persist in false knowledge.

From this verse to Verse #8, ātmajñāna is elaborated upon.

In this verse, ātmajñāna is glorified by an indirect method of criticizing the ajñāni. The ajñāni is labeled as ātmahanaha – the killer of Ātma. How can Ātma that is indestructible be killed?. Ignorance of Ātma is as good as destruction of Ātma. An unknown object is as good as non-existent. Therefore, an ignorant person or Ajñāni doesn’t derive any benefit from Ātma Jñānam such as poornatvam, shuddhatvam etc. Such a person will consider himself to be his body and mind complex, consider himself to be the doer and enjoyer and consequently subjected to sufferings associated with his actions. Such a person could go to any one of the 14 worlds after his death based on his actions. Each of these worlds is labeled as an āsuraloka as they are all inferior to moksha and therefore subject to samsāra and sufferings associated with it though in relative terms some worlds such as deva loka is much superior to other lokas. A person living in any of these worlds is said to be living in blinding darkness. One without Ātma Jñānam is equated to one living in blinding darkness.

Verse # 4

अनेजदेकं मनसो जवीयो नैनद्देवा आप्नुवन्पूर्वमर्षत् ।
तद्धावतोऽन्यानत्येति तिष्ठत्तस्मिन्नपो मातरिश्वा दधाति ॥ ४॥

anejadekaṃ manaso javīyo nainaddevā āpnuvanpūrvamarṣat ।
taddhāvato’nyānatyeti tiṣṭhattasminnapo mātariśvā dadhāti ॥ 4॥

anejat = not moving; ekam = one, alone, the primary; manasah = (than) the mind; javīyah = swifter than; na = not; enat = it, this one; devāh = the deities; āpnuvat = sakalyena vyajānan = comprehend or know fully; pūrvam = from before, since beginning-less time; arṣat = knowing (freely and from His own nature); tad = that [Brahman]; dhāvatah = those running, moving fast; anyān = others; atyeti = surpasses, overtakes; tiṣṭhat = rests, exists, remains; tasmin = in Him, in that Hari; apah = karmani = actions; mātariśvā = mukhya prāṇa ; dadhāti = samarpayati = dedicates, offers.

(The Supreme is) is unmoving for He is everywhere; He is swifter than the mind, and cannot be fully comprehended (even) by the deities, while He knows all by His own nature, from beginning-less time; though unchanging, staying as-is, He effortlessly overtakes all, no matter how they may run; to that Lord, mukhya prāṇa dedicates all the actions performed by all creatures.

From this verse to verse #8, Ātma Swaroopa Varṇanam (glorification of Ātma) is described. These are the core verses. Ātma is ekam i.e one. Just as there is no dreamer’s world in a dream other than the dreamer, there is no waker’s world other than the perceiver of the waker’s world. Just as space appears as many because of the many containers within which it can exist, Ātma can appear as many because of the plurality of beings in whom it can manifest. Just as Space is only one, Ātma is also one.  Ātma is achalam – without any movement because it is all pervading. Ātma is faster than even the mind again because of its all pervasiveness. Ātma is faster than sense organs because Ātma is already in any place that sense organs try to reach because it is all pervading. The implication here is that neither mind nor the sense organs can objectify Ātma. Ātma is beyond mind and sense organs. The body and mind are basically inert matter. The entire universe is also inert. But, how are they able to function? The inert body and mind complex is made sentient in the presence of Ātma. The source of power for all the activities is prāṇa tattvam. At the individual level, it is called prāṇa and at the universal level it is called hiraṇyagarbha. All the energy required for the functioning of the entire inert universe is made possible in the presence of Ātma.

Verse #5

तदेजति तन्नैजति तद्दूरे तद्वन्तिके ।
तदन्तरस्य सर्वस्य तदु सर्वस्यास्य बाह्यतः ॥ ५॥

tadejati tannaijati taddūre tadvantike ।
tadantarasya sarvasya tadu sarvasyāsya bāhyataḥ ॥ 5॥

tad = that; ejati = moves; tat = He, Himself; na = (does) not; dūre= far off; tadu = tadeva = He alone; antike = near, close by; antah = within, inside of; asya = of this; sarvasya = of all; bāhyataḥ = outside of.

He moves; He Does not move; He is very far off (He exists even at infinite distances), and He is also very close by (because He is omnipresent); He is within everyone and everything, and also outside everyone and everything (His presence is all-pervasive).

Ātma seemingly moves though it is stationary. When the mind is centered within the body, we experience consciousness within the body. The same Ātma illumines objects outside the body using the mind as medium. Ātma is far away and near. For an Ajñāni, the Ātma is far away. For a Jñāni, Ātma is very near as he considers himself to be Ātma. Ātma is within and without. This means Ātma is everything. As awareness principle it is within and as existence principle it is without.

Verse #6

यस्तु सर्वाणि भूतान्यात्मन्येवानुपश्यति ।
सर्वभूतेषु चात्मानं ततो न विजुगुप्सते ॥ ६॥

yastu sarvāṇi bhūtānyātmanyevānupaśyati ।
sarvabhūteṣu cātmānaṃ tato na vijugupsate ॥ 6॥

yah = (he) who; tu = but, indeed; sarvāṇi = all; bhūtāni = beings, creatures, objects, ātmani = in the Supreme Being; eva = only; anupaśyati = excellently beholds, clearly understands; sarvabhūteṣu = in all beings; ca = and; ātmānaṃ = the Lord, the Ruler of the innermost self; tatah = thus, therefore, by reason of; na = (does) not; vijugupsate = wish to hide or seek concealment.

One who sees all animate and inanimate nature in the Supreme (for He exists outside them and is their support), and also sees the Supreme in all of them (for He exists in them, and is their controller from within), by this reason, he becomes free of fear and does not ever need to seek concealment.

In this verse, the first two stages of a Jñāni are listed. The first stage is that Ātma is in every body enlivening and activating them. In reality, everybody is within Ātma. Just as the space within a room merges with the outside space if the walls of the room were to collapse and becomes one, it is the same Ātma that pervades every being. The wise person recognizes Ātma in every being backed by scriptural teachings from a Guru. In the second stage, the Jñāni recognizes that all the bodies are within Ātma and therefore he is free from likes and dislikes towards anyone.

To be continued….

Based on the lectures by : “Dharmatma” Dr. S. Yegnasubramanian
Transcribed by : Shivagiri Nallicheri and Srinivas Mallapragada


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